WordPress, and other similar template based website design options are front and centre these days. They toute their ease of use, DIY simplicity and incredible affordability to build an empire that has all but taken over the internet today. Who doesn't want to save a buck or two, right?
Before I dive in further, let's back it up for just a moment. WordPress is an open source website creation tool written in the PHP language. Basically, WordPress is a tool that allows DIY users with no web design experience to build their own website using pre-designed templates. As a result of this ease of use, you can design a simple site yourself for free or have a low cost design company do it for you for much less than the cost of a true, custom website. In fact, over 25% of all websites on the internet are currently based on WordPress, so how bad could it be, right?
Rather than ranting on and on about my distaste for template based design, below are my top 10 reasons to avoid WordPress and other template designs at all costs for your professional website.
The number one reason to avoid using templates, especially WordPress, is due to the security, or lack there of. As I mentioned already, WordPress is used in over 25% of websites on the internet. As a result, this has become a field day for hackers. WordPress websites are notoriously targeted by hackers due to their security vulnerabilites, much of it a result of unsecure PHP code that is behind many common WordPress plugins. WordPress tries to be everything to everyone, and everyone tries to use it for everything. What was a very affordable initial investment could easily cost you in the long run via a securuty breach. This could hurt your reputation and your wallet.
A close second to security, is SEO or Search Engine Optimization. SEO relates to the content on your webpage, and other elements of how it's coded that make it easy for Google's indexing bots to find and display your website when people are searching for relevant terms. If you know what you are doing, this is not particularly challenging when developing a custom website. Unfortunatley with WordPress, you are at the mercy of the templates offered and the code behind them. There are several SEO plugins designed for WordPress that try and solve this inherent issue. The problem is, the code that any template produces is bulky and complicated (not optimized) resulting in slower loading pages, and forcing Google to have to wade through many layers of code to find what it's looking for. This puts you at a significant disadvantage over a custom website with optimized coding. Google will almost certainly punish you for this.
The benefits of a DIY approach end when a problem arises. If you are not a designer, programmer, or server infrustructure expert, setting up your own website can become an overwhelming task. When you run into an issue, there is no phone number you can call to have the issue fixed. This is a result of the open source nature of WordPress. It's a community of developers that create their own custom plugins their own way. Troubleshooting will mean spending hours wading through online community forums, hoping that some kind stranger will help you. Doesn't sound like the most efficient way for a business owner to be spending their already stretched time.
Everything you do as a business impacts your reputation. If you have a physical location, how it looks, how clean it is and how your staff behave all greatly impact your reputation. In today's online world, your website is no different. If your website is too simplistic, overly generic, slow to load, doesn't work properly, doesn't have the information people are looking for, doesn't show up in Google Search (I could go on and on) then how do you think that reflects on your business? It's not hard to tell a WordPress (or any other) template from a custom design. If your customers know you cut corners on your website, what else might they assume you would do to save a few bucks? This isn't the reputation you are looking for, and your website is certainly not the place to cut corners.
PHP is the programming language (I use that term loosely) behind WordPress. It's bad in every way and any reputable developer will tell you the same. I came across this blog recently and the author speaks my thoughts to a tee. Please have a quick read, it will tell you through a lovely analogy why PHP is horrific, and why it's an absolute blunder that so much of the internet is embedded with it.
When using any template design, you are at the mercy of the template parameters when it comes to how your website looks and feels. That's why so many of them look the same! How familiar is it to go to a website and see a large graphic overlaid with some text on the landing page? Welcome to WordPress. You can see them from a mile away, and whilst they don't look terrible, they are simply generic and not unique. Why? Because so many people are using identical templates! Drag image here, add text there and voila, website! If you want to avoid the cookie cutter image, then avoid the cookie cutter website. On top of that, there are significant design limitations when using templates. You can't put your content wherever you want or style your content your own way. With a custom website, you can do it however you want, the sky is the limit. You can't be unique when using the same design as everyone else, so don't.
There are literally thousands of plugins available for WordPress. Whilst choice is generally a good thing, due to the nature of WordPress and PHP, this can cause some serious problems. WordPress regularly issues updates (ironically enough they are often security patches) that can cause any number of plugins to stop functioning correctly, or cause your website to stop working entirely until the offending plugin is disabled. The result: You have to contact a developer to fix the issues for you, which costs time and money. How much will depend on the extent of the issue and the time your website is down for. This is a very real and regular occurence with WordPress websites, and one that is easily avoided by using a custom design from the beginning.
The internet is riddled with spam bots, always looking for new opportunites. Since WordPress is so commonly used and PHP is so notoriously unsecure, can you guess what platforms these spam bots are constantly targeting? WordPress is a literal spam bot magnet and a very easy target for web abuse and hackers alike. It's like wearing neon at night if you were looking to stay hidden. Doesn't make much sense, does it?
9. Design Companies Use it
This is perhaps my biggest pet peeve of all. WordPress continues to grow because so many people jump on board to make some quick cash. Nowadays, there are countless so called "web design" companies out there who charge clients to put together cookie cutter WordPress websites. Whilst they will probably do a better job at it than you will do yourself, it's simply not worth paying for when you can get a custom design from a real designer for just a slightly larger initial investment. A true, reputable web designer/developer understands the security risks behind PHP and WordPress and ultimately has the skills and expterise to avoid using such tools. A website is an investment in the future of your business, make sure the company you source to build your website sees you, the client, as worthy of that investment by using the best tools for the job.
You get what you pay for, so the saying goes. It couldn't be more true when relating to WordPress and other template designs. Let's say you have these 3 options in front of you:
- Build a website yourself for next to nothing
- Have a low cost design company build you a WordPress site for $500
- Have a real design company build you a custom website for $2000
I can appreciate why many people gravitate towards the first 2 options. First, it's less expensive and we are always looking for ways to save money. Second, many people don't understand the difference or even know what WordPress is, so they can't fathom paying $2000 when they can get, what they think is the same thing, for $500. Just consider this, if you were going to have a home built and one contractor was going to charge you $50,000 and the other was quoting $200,000, don't you think you'd be a little leary of the company charging you so much less? If the roof caves in 3 days after the warranty period, it may very well cost you a lot more than it would have had you paid a fair price for a quality build in the first place. A professional website is no different. If you pay a bit more up front for a quality design, the chances of having problems in the future are significantly reduced. So many customers end up paying for a cheaper website up front, and then when things go wrong they end up paying for the custom design afterwards anyway. Do yourself a favour, pay a fair price to a custom website design company and you will be forever grateful in the long run. You really do get what you pay for.